High school sports will go on in Missouri.
It appears likely St. Louis City and St. Louis County schools will have to watch from the sideline.
On Thursday afternoon, St. Louis County executive Sam Page encouraged all schools in St. Louis County to start the school year completely online.
Also on Thursday, the St. Louis County Department of Public Health sent a letter to school leaders encouraging them to go virtual because of “a sustained increase in COVID-19 cases that is a result of community transmission.”
The letter stated: “While this is a recommendation and not a mandate, the Department of Public Health may take further action to close school buildings that have outbreaks that further risk the health of residents.”
Nearly 20 school districts in the area have opted to begin the school year online, including Affton, Brentwood, Clayton, Ferguson-Florissant, Hazelwood, Kirkwood, Parkway, Pattonville, St. Louis Public Schools and Webster Groves.
Under the guidelines released this month by the Missouri State High School Activities Association none of these school districts would be allowed to compete in sports or other activities. In MSHSAA’s return to play plan, any school district that does not offer an in-person school option is prohibited from practice and competition. That stance was reiterated Wednesday by MSHSAA leadership on a statewide conference call with athletics directors and administrators.
MSHSAA’s guidelines also state that if a majority of schools are open for in-person learning, then it has every intention of playing out the regular season and playoffs in those sports.
“In this scenario, MSHSAA does not intend to revoke the participation opportunities for students who are able to take part,” the guidelines read.
This is welcome news in St. Charles County and Jefferson County. None of the school districts in either county have opted for a completely virtual start to the school year and thus are eligible to begin formal practices Aug. 10, when the fall sports preseason officially begins.
No practices or workouts are allowed for any MSHSAA member Aug. 1-9 as it is a mandatory dead week. Student-athletes are not allowed to be on campus for sports-related activities.
De Soto football coach Chris Johnson said he is hopeful when the dead week ends his Dragons will be at practice bright and early Aug. 10. But plans can change on a dime as he has learned all too well since the coronavirus pandemic uprooted life as we know it in March.
“It’s been weird,” Johnson said. “We’re following the news.”
When this week began, only a few school districts had opted for a virtual start. Every day the list grows longer.
Johnson is watching in real time as friends and comrades at other schools watch their hopes at a season start to shrivel.
“It’s very nerve-racking,” he said. “We’re right on the edge of it.”
De Soto's players are well aware of it, too. As a coach, Johnson wants to offer his players a sense of normalcy and tell his seniors their season won’t be cut short. But he can’t.
“I haven’t been able to give my guys a hard, tangible, ‘Yes, we’re going to play,’ ” Johnson said. “We’re going to continue to get ready for a season.”
Fort Zumwalt North football coach Joe Bacon spent the last four weeks with his players at practice, and while it wasn’t the way it used to be it was better than not getting together at all.
“For me, being back at camp was a really good thing,” Bacon said. “Having the normalcy of that routine. It was good for (the players) being around their brothers, socializing and working hard at something they love.”
In these uncertain times, Bacon is comforted by his belief that football will go on this fall.
Even as St. Louis County school districts opt for virtual learning, he remains steadfast there will be a season even if it’s not quite like seasons before.
“I have a whole lot of faith we’ll have football this year,” Bacon said. “I have faith we’ll be able to do something, that keeps me going.”
Should things continue as planned, Fort Zumwalt North will not be rebuilding its football schedule.
When the Illinois High School Association moved football season to March on Wednesday, Fort Zumwalt North lost Alton, its Week 9 opponent. The bulk of its schedule is against St. Charles County teams. It’s slated to open the season against archrival Battle, which is located in Columbia.
That is not the case at Northwest-Cedar Hill. As a member of the St. Louis Suburban Conference, most of Northwest's opponents are based in St. Louis County. So far Northwest has three opponents that have opted for virtual learning and another four that are part of St. Louis County.
Northwest could be out seven of its nine regular-season games should St. Louis County schools not offer an in-person learning option this fall.
“We’re in a tough spot,” Northwest football coach Corey Toenjes said.
Toenjes and his coaching staff have continued to prepare the Lions through the uncertainty as best as they can. Fortunately Northwest’s Week 1 opponent is Jefferson County neighbor Hillsboro. Afterward, that’s when things get fast and loose.
As one of the largest schools in Jefferson County, Northwest does not believe it will have much to pick from when it comes to potential opponents. Most of the smaller schools in the county don’t have a significant amount of games scheduled against St. Louis County, so there won’t be an abundance of open spots to fill. It’s going to be a fluid situation that will require a lot of flexibility by all parties.
“I definitely feel like we’re in that purgatory,” Toenjes said. “We might not learn who our opponent is until Monday. We might have just two days to prepare for an opponent."
Toejnes said his players are aware of the tenuousness of the situation.
It's not that far to the county line, where seasons are being put on ice.
"It's more of an anxiousness," Toejnes said. "They're nervous about what could happen."
STLHighSchoolSports.com is the most comprehensive source of stats, scores and stories from any and all area high schools.